A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is reduced or interrupted, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within a few minutes, brain cells begin to die. Ischemic stroke, the most common type, occurs when the arteries to the brain are narrowed or blocked, severely reducing blood flow (ischemia). The other type of stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures, causing too much blood within the skull. Hemorrhages can result from a number of conditions that affect the blood vessels, including uncontrolled high blood pressure, weak spots in the blood vessel walls, and the rupture of a malformed blood vessel.
Symptoms of stroke include trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination, dizziness, trouble speaking, blurred or double vision, severe headache, stiff neck, facial pain, and paralysis or numbness on one side of the body. A stroke can lead to temporary or permanent disability, such as paralysis or loss of control of certain muscles, difficulty talking or swallowing, memory loss or trouble with understanding, and pain, tingling or numbness in certain parts of the body. Early treatment can minimize damage to the brain and potential stroke complications.
Recovery and rehabilitation depend on the area of the brain and the amount of tissue damaged. Harm to the right side of the brain may affect movement and sensation on the left side of the body. Damage to brain tissue on the left side may affect movement on the right side, as well as speech and language functions. In addition, people who’ve had a stroke may have problems with breathing, swallowing, balancing and hearing, and loss of vision and bladder or bowel function.
Every person’s stroke recovery is different, depending on what complications a person might have. The goal of stroke rehabilitation is to help the person recover as much independence and functioning as possible. Much of stroke rehabilitation involves relearning lost skills, such as walking or communicating. The speed of recovery depends on the extent of damage to the brain, the intensity and duration of therapy received, as well as personality, coping styles, and motivation.
In Chinese medicine, stroke is caused by a number of factors that tend to play out over a long period of time, and depending on the factors involved, this will determine the type of symptoms experienced during and after a stroke. Chinese medicine distinguishes two general types of stroke: the most severe type attacks the internal organs as well as the energy pathways (meridians) and the milder type attacks only the meridians. Lifestyle factors that put a person at greater risk include long term stress or overwork, excessive or strenuous physical activity, emotional strain, and irregular or poor eating habits.
Acupuncture can be a very helpful therapy during the stroke rehabilitation process. As with other types of therapies, acupuncture tends to have the most positive effect on stroke recovery if treatment is started as early on as possible, ideally within the first 3 to 6 months of the stroke.
Acupuncture treatments can offer the stroke patient improvements in the areas of walking, balance, emotions, quality of life, ease of daily activity, and mobility. Studies show that acupuncture can have an effect on nerve regeneration, blood viscosity and blood pressure, hormone regulation, and aid surviving nerve cells in finding new pathways. Acupuncture is also helpful in the treatment of headache, dizziness and hypertension. Because a stroke is a more complex problem, treating this condition with acupuncture will take a series of treatments in order to improve symptoms and achieve the best results.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.